12 Sep 2014
No. 1640


ICRISAT awards outstanding women farmers in India

“Women farmers are the unsung heroes of Agriculture. They are the beacons of hope,” Dr William D Dar said in his address at the Women Farmers Day. Photo: Srujan Kumar

Recognizing the contribution of women to agriculture is critical to achieve global food security, said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT.

Addressing over 1500 women farmers from across 12 states of India at the Women Farmers Day at the ICRISAT global headquarters, Dr Dar stressed that with “women farmers as the backbone of agriculture, and meeting their needs equals a better world.”

The ICRISAT Women Farmers Day is a celebration of the achievements of India’s outstanding women farmers whose ingenious and resourceful ways have placed them at the forefront of the fight against poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Of the 2 billion smallholder farmers in the developing world producing majority of the world’s food, 70 per cent are women, mostly living in extreme poverty. “If we are to eradicate hunger and poverty, we need to level the playing field by economically empowering women farmers,” Dr Dar continued.

He added that a UN study showed that empowering women farmers with new technologies and resources could result in yield increases by 20-30% and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people.

D“This is a very proud moment for me. I see my mother today in every woman farmer attending this event” – Dr Dar. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT, Srujan Kumar

ICRISAT regularly conducts Farmers Days to share new technologies, best practices and information about science-based innovations to benefit the farmers. The Women Farmers Day was held this 2014, designated as the ‘Year of Family Farming’ as well as ICRISAT’s Year of Gender.

At the event, ICRISAT recognized the achievements of women farmer leaders especially chosen for the leadership qualities they have displayed in their communities and their achievements despite personal and social difficulties.

Thirty women were recognized as Golden awardees, and another 53 women as Silver awardees as token recognition for their exemplary leadership, and to encourage them to help more women farmers in their regions and motivate others to come forward and take leadership roles.

“Earlier, we were practicing blanket fertilizer application to the soil. Through ICRISAT, soil testing was done and we now apply fertilizer based on recommendation and adopt organic farming, allowing us to cultivate healthy food with reduced cost,” said Ms Rajeshwari V Patil, a woman farmer leader from Karnataka.

The Director General interacting with members of the local media. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

She also shared her mission to bring awareness and educate women farmers on organic farming and adoption of new technologies in dryland agriculture.

To commemorate the occasion, profiles of these women farmer leaders have been put together into a book. During the day, there were various opportunities for interactions among women farmers and ICRISAT scientists. Demonstration farms and exhibits have also been set up to showcase scientific solutions for women farmers. 

“It is important to recognize the role of women in agriculture so that they can be an important engine of growth and poverty reduction,” said Dr Suhas P Wani, Director of the ICRISAT Development Center. The number of rural women living in poverty has doubled since the 1970s. Rural women produce 50% of the world food but own 1% of the land.

“ICRISAT made 2014 its Year of Gender to give extra attention both internally and externally on how the institute can better provide opportunities for women farmers to succeed. We will continue to work with them in finding scientific solutions to ensure vibrant, well-nourished, and happy future generations,” Dr Wani added.

Farmers from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand took part in this activity at the ICRISAT global headquarters in Hyderabad on 12 September.

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Working together for a holistic fertilizer policy in India
An opportunity to significantly raise yields and improve soil health

The Government of India wishes to formulate a holistic national fertilizer policy at the earliest, for which we seek the support of ICRISAT, India’s Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Mr Ananth Kumar said.

Dr Dar with the honorable minister at the ICRISAT headquarters. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“We are planning to identify and encourage a balanced usage of bio and organic fertilizers and chemical fertilizers in agriculture. This will be a major policy shift,” the Minister said. He added further, “Holistic, holistic, holistic must be our focus.”

“We are also on the anvil of forming a task force for policy formulation and we invite the participation of ICRISAT in it,” the minister added.

The minister visited the ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, India, on 8 September, and met with ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar and other senior management staff. He urged the institute’s support for various efforts and activities to bring about a shift in fertilizer use across the country and means to achieve sustainable development in smallholder agriculture.

Facets of the policy

  • The main features of the policy would be:
  • Making India self-reliant by improving agricultural productivity.
    Having a balanced fertilization program and the need to look into usage of bio/organic fertilizers.

“There are anomalies in whatever we have been doing so far. NPK ratio should be 4:2:1, but it is 8:2:1 in most parts of the country. And in some states like Punjab it is 23:2:1. This is affecting the ground water, crops and health of the people,” the minister said.

  • Holistic subsidy scheme for fertilizers in India: Currently the Government is offering indirect subsidies to farmers to the tune of US$ 20 billion per year. The Government wants the subsidies to reach the farmers directly for which there is a need to emulate a targeted fertilizer program.

“Together we need to find solutions. We request ICRISAT to advise the Government of India in formulating the policy, its implementation, and the economics,” the minister said. 

Dr Wani (extreme left) giving the minister a tour of the ICRISAT farm research facilities. Also seen in the picture are Drs CLL Gowda and KV Raju.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Pledging support

A detailed presentation on three concepts – soil health mapping for developing balanced fertilizer recommendation; boosting pulses production through cultivation of rice fallows and rainy season fallows; and rainwater harvesting by adopting a holistic approach – was made to the minister. 

ICRISAT on its part, offered support to the Government, to develop and execute a country-wide soil health mapping initiative.
ICRISAT also noted that mapping is mainly done for NPK but it is critical to map for micronutrients as well and recommended mapping of 16 elements in the soils. 

“Poor soil health is due to imbalanced nutrition and to fix it an integrated nutrition management is necessary. Current farmer yields are lower by 2 to 5 folds than achievable yields. Using soil mapping as an entry point, we could come up with prescriptions and put in place a knowledge-based fertility management rather than input-based management,” Dr Dar informed the minister.

Suggestions made by ICRISAT for balanced nutrition management include:

  • Bringing in conservation measures so that fertile layer of soils is not lost.

  • Diversification of systems with legumes to harness the biological nitrogen fixation potential.

  • Recycling organic matter.

Dr Suhas P Wani, Director, ICRISAT Development Center, noted that studies in India have shown that yields can be increased 28-80% just by applying the right fertilizer.

“You can’t feed India with only organic fertilizers. The problem is the misuse of chemical fertilizers. We need an integrated, biological, organic and chemical fertility management. We will also need implementation on a large scale,” said Dr Dar.

Creating awareness on balanced fertilization

Mr Kumar noted the importance of building awareness of the farmers and industry on the soil needs and best fertilization practices, as part of the implementation of the policy. Radio programs were discussed to reach the farmers. ICRISAT also recommended farmer to farmer videos which were used in Karnataka state in India, and proved to have a 10 times greater effectiveness than traditional communication routes.

Helping address food security issues

ICRISAT, in its recommendations suggested the cultivation of pulses in rain-fed areas after rice in a two-crop pattern. In the Indo-Gangetic Plain, in 12 million ha, farmers limit themselves to rice cultivation. But, after paddy harvest there is a good amount of moisture in the soils which can aid in pulses cultivation, when supplemented with micro-nutrients. Legume crops help in nitrogen fixation in the soil which will mean less urea needs to be applied.

“This is where there is a huge potential. These areas can produce a minimum of 6 million tons of pulses every year and will help address the pulses shortage,” Dr Dar briefed the minister.

Acknowledging the recommendation, the minister stated that growing pulses after rice would help the Government reduce the dependence on import of both urea and pulses.

Waste-to-compost campaign

“The Government wishes to launch a waste-to-compost campaign for India under the clean India campaign. This area needs huge attention and we seek more inputs and direction from ICRISAT. We want to come up with a detailed approach,” the minister said. 
ICRISAT has proposed a decentralized and centralized mechanism for waste collection in rural and urban areas respectively. The minister further requested ICRISAT to suggest possible incentives to individuals returning wet waste as a means to encourage the procedure.

Visit to ICRISAT research facilities

Mr Kumar also toured the state-of-the-art CRAL (Central Analytical Services Laboratory) where soil and plant samples analysis is automated for undertaking soil health mapping as well as food quality assessment. He also visited the ICRISAT Genebank and Farm Research facilities.

The minister was accompanied by Mr Shyam Lal Goyal, Joint Secretary, Department of Fertilizers, Mr K N Gupta, Economic Adviser and Mr Srinivas, PS to the minister.

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Women Farmers Day in pictures

Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT, Srujan Kumar
Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT, Srujan Kumar
Photo: Srujan Kumar
Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT
Photo: Kaushik Ghosh
Photos: Srujan Kumar
Photos: Srujan Kumar

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Tackling malnutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture

ICRISAT staff interacting with local farmers. Photo: ICRISAT

At a symposium held recently to discuss nutritionally sensitive and environmentally sustainable agriculture, participants gathered to discuss the persistent problem of malnutrition in India; economic consequences of malnutrition; and growing more food in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The symposium “Nutritionally Sensitive and Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture for India’s Food and Nutrition Security Challenges and Opportunities” was organized as part of the silver jubilee celebrations of National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), Hyderabad chapter, in collaboration with National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), Hyderabad, on 23 August. Dr S Ayyappan, ICRISAT Board member and Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, flagged off the symposium.

The following questions were discussed at the symposium:

  • Why does India have the highest incidence of malnutrition in the world? Is it an enigma? Is there a way forward?

  • How does malnutrition affect health and productivity and what are the economic consequences for a country, which is claiming its place among the emerging economies of the world?

  • Can more food be produced in an environmentally sustainable way despite climate change, to feed the growing population?

  • Can lessons be learnt from the mistakes of the Green Revolution?

The discussions covered:

  • How to make agriculture nutritionally sensitive and environmentally sustainable. This can be achieved through a three-dimensional approach

  • Crop diversification

  • Homestead production especially of nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, poultry, dairy, fishery, etc.

  • Develop  local systems of storage and distribution

  • Promote nutrition literacy at all levels - school, professional education (agriculture, medicine), sensitization of planners, policy makers, scientists, among others;

  • Focus on health and education of girl child, through adolescence and adulthood;

  • Special focus on the first 1,000 days from conception.

The symposium discussions focused on strategies for addressing: a) under-nutrition and dietary deficiencies, b) water insecurity and water quality, and c) environmental impact of green revolution.  Some of the strategies suggested include promotion of integrated farming systems, biofortification of staple cereals, promoting balanced diets, and policy and program initiatives to make agriculture more nutrition oriented by focusing on hidden hunger, besides tackling the climate change challenge.

ICRISAT was represented at the symposium by  Drs Rajeev Varshney, HC Sharma, R Padmaja,  M Srinivas Rao and Ms K Kavitha.

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Going back to basics with a diversified and nutritious diet

Dr Bouis honoring Dr Dar with a plaque recognizing him as ‘A Visionary and Global Champion for Smallholder Farmers of Semi-Arid Tropics’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Naturally highly nutritious and biofortified crops are essential to ensure the nutrition and food security of the people in the developing countries. Elevating nutritional security has been institutionalized in the ICRISAT Development plan. And now in the CGIAR, nutritional security has been elevated to the same level as food security, ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar said while interacting with the HarvestPlus team visiting ICRISAT-India.

Dr Dar inaugurated the HarvestPlus Micronutrients Analytical Lab at ICRISAT headquarters. The lab features equipment including the X-Supreme and S2 Ranger, which aid in analyzing the iron and zinc content of crops – initially programed for sorghum and millet.

 “Malnutrition in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is a serious concern. To combat this, there is a need for a diversified food system. To achieve this we need to go back to basics that is we need  a balanced diet, where you have an intake of proteins, minerals and vitamins along with carbohydrates,” Dr Dar said in his address to the visiting team. 

“The ICRISAT’s smart food campaign is to bring to the attention of the public, development investors and other stakeholders the critical importance of nutritious crops,” the Director General added. 

At the event, Dr Howarth Bouis, Director, HarvestPlus, honored Dr Dar with a plaque recognizing him as ‘A Visionary and Global Champion for Smallholder Farmers of Semi-Arid Tropics’. Dr Wolfgang H Pfeiffer, Deputy Director, Operations, HarvestPlus, felicitated Dr CLL Gowda, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT. 

Thanking the Director General for acknowledging the importance of nutritional security, Dr Bouis said, “We are happy that we could experience ICRISAT and understand its work here.”

HarvestPlus is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

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